(Mirror) Mario’s Catalina can be a bit confusing. Sometimes it’s listed online as Mario’s Cubano, sometimes Mario’s Catalina. The cuisine is listed as “Cuban and Spanish,” but Mario himself is from Honduras.
As it turns out there’s one thing that is not confusing. His name dominates all, and his bubbly perky personality casts a spell over everything in the restaurant. Could the service be a little more refined, especially at this price point? Sure! But one visit from Mario and a kiss on the top of your head and all’s forgotten.
As Mario puts it, “I was born in La Ceiba, Honduras, where some of my fondest memories are of my mother in the kitchen calling us children to dinner. So much of our family life revolved around the meals we shared. I’ve tried to duplicate that comfortable, familiar atmosphere at Catalina’s. My passion for bringing people and fine food together supersedes everything.”
And that passion is evident everywhere Mario steps. He is constantly moving about the restaurant checking in on diners, adjusting pictures, turning a floral arrangement, just so.
This man loves what he does, and it is evident in every aspect of the restaurant. Step into Mario’s Catalina Restaurant and you instantly feel the hustle of the city fade. Soothing colors, soft lighting, crisp linens and fragrant aromas all conspire to transport you to a more tranquil setting.
So, I was a little miffed when we were moved out onto the patio facing Federal Highway, however, we hadn’t made reservations and I assumed the interior tables were spoken for.
Besides, the outdoor patio is beautifully decorated and I was seated with my back to the street. I soon forgot about the traffic (perhaps that glass of excellent sangria had something to do with that as well.) BTW, the mojitos looked yummy.
We decided to split the shrimp cocktail for two, priced at $20. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and mostly perfectly cleaned (one was only partially deveined — I completed the job at the table), but in what world does a plate for two only include five shrimp, no matter how big? And one lemon wheel?
Then Mario visited our table, drizzled us in his magic pixie dust and we didn’t care. We were suddenly the most important people in the restaurant, or at least felt that way.
My husband enjoyed the salmon, simply presented grilled and served with white rice, beans and plantains, as are all entrées. I thoroughly enjoyed Mario’s Combination with shredded roast pork, fried chunks of chicken (one of which attempted to run away when the waiter slapped my plate on the table) and shredded beef which was very similar to ropa vieja.
The portions were so large I had enough left over for a hearty dinner the next day. Mario checked in again and these two strangers felt like cherished family members.
The dessert list is extensive, but only a few items are made in house; flan and a choice of tres or quatros leches cake. My husband enjoyed the quatros leches cake which provided the perfect amount for a sweet bite or two after dinner.
The Black Forest cake, while delicious, tasted like it had been in the fridge too long. I wonder if the cheesecake, which is what I actually ordered, would have been the same.
Then Mario came by and charmed us anew and we walked out feeling as if we had just had the most fabulous dining experience of all time.
That’s the magic of Mario’s Catalina.
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